Videos by American Songwriter
LANCE CARPENTER AND SCOTT TONKINSON
“Notches” is a cool idea, and a well-crafted song. How did it come about?
Carpenter: Scott and I were writing and just started talking about life. I mentioned some family experiences and we ended up talking about our grandfathers. I told a story about how my Papaw used to measure my little sister and me on a doorframe and tell us we could grow up to be anything we wanted to be. Somewhere in the middle of that story we thought it would be a great idea to write about the “space” in between the notches.
Tonkinson: Lance and I usually know when an idea has legs to it, and this one did. It was great to take a real-life story and turn it into a song that has a strong message most of us can relate to.
You write a good bit with Scott and you are both AmericanSongspace.com members. Do you have other steady co-writers?
Carpenter: I co-write with several folks but my only other steady co-writer is Forest Whitehead. He’s a young man with a lot of talent who has become a very good friend. I like to get to know co-writers, see what we have in common and where that takes us. When I write by myself, I like to take a personal experience and bring it to life.
Tonkinson: I write with other writers who share a passion for telling a good story. I’m a melody person, so I look for a melody that is going to fit the mood of the song and deliver that feeling to the listener. I also like the satisfaction of writing a good song by myself that offers a look inside of my life and my experiences.
What are the songwriter scenes like in Ozark, Arkansas and Chandler, Arizona? Is there a songwriter organization you’re a part of? Do you play around at music venues?
Carpenter: There’s really not one but I’ve been known to grace the stage at The Speakeasy from time to time. Scott and I are both members of NSAI. They have taught me so much about the music business and continue to play a huge role in my development as a songwriter.
Tonkinson: I agree with Lance. NSAI has been instrumental in getting us to work on the craft of songwriting. The Phoenix area has some great venues for songwriters to perform at, and I play out with a band on Friday nights.
Who are your top 5 favorite songwriters, living or deceased? And briefly, why?
Carpenter: Dean Dillon, Steve Seskin, Toby Keith, Rivers Rutherford, and Don Schlitz. Many of the songs I fell in love with growing up were written by these guys. Each one has the ability to write a song by telling a story that grabs me like a thief.
Tonkinson: James Taylor, Don Schlitz, Chuck Cannon, Craig Wiseman, and Rivers Rutherford. Each has their own unique style of presenting a song, and they’re wonderful storytellers with amazing melodies as well.
If you could pitch “Notches” to one established recording artist, who would it be and why?
Carpenter: George Strait or Brad Paisley. They can deliver a story song better than anyone I’ve ever heard.
Tonkinson: I think that Rodney Atkins could take “Notches” to a new place with his vocal style and delivery. It would be exciting to hear him put his talent into this song.
Do you prefer to leave a song fairly vague and open to interpretation, or would you rather have it offer a set structure accompanied by a clear resolution?
Carpenter: My main goal when I write is to write the best song I can, but most of my songs are easy to follow and have a clear resolution.
Tonkinson: I agree with Lance. I think that people will hear what they want to in a song, but we owe it to them to write the best song we can write. I think we’re both eternal optimists.
In your opinion, what are some of the key ingredients for a great song?
Carpenter: An opening line that draws the listener in, a story that is detailed and interesting enough to keep a listener tuned into the song, and tying it all together with a melody they can sing along to.
Tonkinson: I love a melody that sticks in your head long after you hear the song. A strong hook is essential and I think the verses need to support the hook every time. I also love imagery in a song where I feel like I am right there with the singer.